It's so easy to make fun of the Department of Motor Vehicles in the United States. Whenever folks return from renewing a license or getting new plates, everybody has a joke making fun of the long lines, prolonged waits or bored employees. But it looks like we in the US have it easy compared to the Japanese. Journalist Jacob M. Schlesinger recently chronicled the bureaucratic hell involved for an American to get a driver's license there on The Wall Street Journal Japan Realtime blog.

The country's government basically tries to put as many obstacles as possible between prospective drivers and a permit. If you can withstand it all, you just might be patient enough to be behind the wheel. Schlesinger claims that he had to make seven trips around Tokyo over the course of two months and pay about $600 to get ready for the driving test. These trials included getting his US license translated and a half-day of testing.

Even getting through all of that, there's still the actual in-car test to pass. The police administer it, and an officer has final say before you even get in the car. According to the writer, a policeman kicked one woman out immediately because her shoes were considered inappropriate for driving.

As if it wasn't tough enough, the writer claims that he had the easy path because he already had an American license. Read the full story at Japan Realtime to find out if Schlesinger finally got his permit.


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  • 28 Comments
      Skylar Ross Toups
      • 4 Months Ago
      I believe, and may be wrong, but when I was getting my permit in Florida (over 10 years ago) it stated that closed toed shoes and no flip-flops were to be worn while taking the driving test. Our drivers ed class at Niceville Senior High School also wouldn't let you in the car without proper shoes. It makes sense, I mean flip-flops in particular could get caught and prevent someone temporarily from being able to correctly navigate the pedals. Common sense has to come into play here but I can see where they are coming from, at least from the shoes standpoint.
      ericluvsgiraffes
      • 4 Months Ago
      I believe this guy a lot. I've been living here for fives years now and had to get a Japanese drivers liscence for my job after my international one expired. Yes, you have to get your lisense translated as they need to know how long you've had it, when it expires etc. As for the test, mine was done at a depot, NOT done by the police. Must be a Tokyo thing, that's the first time I've heard of that. I was lucky to only have gotten it on the second try, but that's rather uncommon. The test fails on two parts. The written portion, (ten questions, multiple choice) read like the Japanese version was washed through Google Translate and so was very difficult to read. The second was the actual driving test. I've known people who have gone 5 and 9 times because of how meticulous they make it. When you first get in the car you have to check the mirrors, turn signal etc which is a smart thing to do anyway, but it's advised that you do everything twice and exaggerate your movements in hopes the examiner notices. The driving course is done in a depot, NEVER on the real road. You're given a map before hand and are required to memorize the actual route. I failed the first time for being 20 millimeters over the line while turning right at a four way intersection. The second time I simply didn't do it and passed but again I'm one of the rare ones.
      Len Simpson
      • 4 Months Ago
      Amazing that insurance companies have never attacked our poor training & testing methods
        The Wasp
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Len Simpson
        They don't make money on people who don't drive but I agree it's odd they don't really encourage drivers to get additional training.
      C4RBON
      • 4 Months Ago
      Good. You shouldn't drive around in flimsy shoes. Or sandles. Or barefoot. Nice to know some countries still uphold some driving standards.
      ctsmith1066
      • 4 Months Ago
      It should be a lot harder to get a driving license in the US than it currently is, given how dangerous cars inherently are and how high their negative externality costs are. It sounds like the biggest issues for Japan's process are high entrance costs and arbitrariness.
      Rock Singer
      • 4 Months Ago
      I'm an American living in Japan and can say without a shadow of doubt that this is all to true. It took me 4 tries to get my license from these fascist idiots after waking up at 4:30 a.m. taking 4 trains and a bus dealing with long lines and costing me around $400.00. The cars used for the test had gas and brake peddles on both side, I found that the instructor would some times hold his foot down on the brake to screw up my test. Standing in line I found that most of the people having to retake the test were foreigner just like me with similar stories. But just the same it's not easy to drive in Japan on most streets you have people darting at you from every direction, walking riding bikes and telephone polls in the streets not to mention the lack of sidewalks. Average speed in the city 20 to 30 km so it is possible to fall asleep at the wheel.
      Scott Satellite
      • 4 Months Ago
      At least the bureaucracy in Japan is productive with 6,090 traffic deaths for 2012 vs. 36,166 for the United States. Even taking into account the fact that Japan has about a third the total registered vehicles, the results are approximately 50% better than in the US.
        Rock Singer
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Scott Satellite
        Take into account that most people in Japan are elderly and would much rather take the bus or cab and that many more people live in the States.
        MONTEGOD7SS
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Scott Satellite
        Japan has more fatalities per mile traveled, which is the real measurement you need to look at. It's strict for sure, but doesn't seem to offer much advantage.
      SloopJohnB
      • 4 Months Ago
      Fair enough…flip-flops for a teenager's or anyone's driving test in the US ought to be a nonstarter.
      T. C.
      • 4 Months Ago
      In several decades of driving, I have to honestly say I've never had a nightmare experience at NJ DMV offices. The longest trip I ever had was about an hour, on a day when there were around 8 or 9 people in the office, and 40+ customers for various services.
      EngineerJack
      • 4 Months Ago
      I remember being told many times that it was not safe or legal to operate a vehicle with sandals, flip-flops, and the like. It probably depends on the state. Bare foot was also supposed to be a no-no.
      ken
      • 4 Months Ago
      Anyone who have experience working with Japanese local companies will understand that Japanese are most efficient when they are in their own court playing their own rules. It is almost hopeless to resolve any extraordinary problems without going through an hour of lengthy explaining and formal introductions. And then you need to know Japanese word game to understand what the real problems are. It will be a hundred times worst to work with bureaucrats. That's why free trade with Japan is as meaningless as free trade with China.
      ksrcm
      • 4 Months Ago
      OMG! Imagine the stress and waste of time by insanity introduced by silly Government making you to have to actually pass the test in order to get DL instead of just showing that you breathe. God bless America! We have freedoms here, thank God. One of them being a RIGHT to drive that cannot be negated to anybody as long as they drive slow and sober - everything else goes.
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